Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Do you pray for your children?

Do you pray for your children? Most people would answer yes. We are usually consistent at joining together the two greatest parts of our life - our faith and our children. Let me offer you a suggestion to take that a step further. Talk to your children about your prayers. Try, this week, to have an intentional conversation with your children about your prayers on their behalf. Ask them what they would like for you to pray about. And do the same with them. Ask them to pray for you and share what it is you need their prayers about. Also, tell them what you have been praying for.

You will be surprised at the blessings you will both receive from this experience. It will deepen your relationship - horizontally and vertically.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Five things a Dad should do every day . . .

1. HUG your child. Show them with hugs just how much you love them.
2. Tell your child that you LOVE them unconditionally. Explain to them what unconditional love means to you.
3. PRAY with your child. Take time to show them that your relationship with God is the only thing that is more important to you than them or their Mom.
4. PLAY with your child. Spend time with them doing something that they enjoy doing.
5. Let your child see you LOVE on your wife. Show them what a healthy marriage looks like.

Moms, encourage and support your husband to do these things and be the spiritual example and leader that God calls him to be.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Who’s Really Prodigal? pt.1

One of the most famous scriptures in the Bible is the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. This text has been preached on, studied over and shared – probably as much as any other in the Bible. Most often, we approach this story from the perspective of the wayward son who sinned against the father and returned home to open and loving arms. That’s accurate. But I don’t think it’s the complete message that Jesus was sending to his original audience.
So who was the original audience? It was the Pharisees and the Scribes. The same guys who thought they had the market on religion and relationships with God. So Jesus told them a story to set them straight. Look first at why Jesus told them this parable. They had a problem with Jesus eating and fellowshipping with sinners and tax collectors - the unmentionables of that society. They were defining what and who a sinner was (on their own terms). Jesus had a problem with this. So he told them a story about TWO brothers and their father. Look at how Jesus began the story in v.11. He said, “A man had two sons.” From the beginning this was about both of the man’s sons. Not just the one who we most often focus on. Jesus goes on to highlight the differences in the SIN of the brothers.

The first brother was as disrespectful to his father as anyone could be in that culture. For a son to ask for his inheritance was to tell the father that he no longer existed and no longer wanted to be considered a member of his family – the ultimate disrespect. Had a son actually done that, he would have been kicked out with no questions asked, and no chance of a return. The Pharisees and Scribes would have certainly understood who the bad guy of the story was. In their eyes, a good Jewish father would NEVER have let that boy back into the family. So to say that he was welcomed back with a party – no way!

Webster’s dictionary defines prodigal as abundant, luxurious and extravagant spending. You tell me who was more prodigal – the son who took his inheritance and wasted in on sinful living? Or the father who welcomed that sinful son back into the family by running to meet him (not making him walk all the way in shame), bringing him sandals for his feet, putting the families’ signet ring on his hand, giving him his best robe, killing a calf (which was meant to feed the entire family) and then throwing an extravagant celebration for everyone to attend?

I’m so glad that my Father is a prodigal Father. He lavishly covers with me His Compassionate Love, His Mercy, His Riches, His Blessings and most importantly – His Reward and Promise.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Vision Casting: Simple Rhetoric or Responsible Leadership

What's a vision? Is it just a fancy rhetorical catch-phrase or is it a sign of responsible leadership? Or, could it be both? First of all, in the context of organizational (or in this case, congregational) leadership, a vision is an idea, a picture, a dream, a visual plan of what you want your congregation to look like. In other words, a vision is what appears when you allow your thoughts to take to you to grandoise, best-case-scenario places.

Assuming you understand and can agree with that definition - is it simplistic and unnecessary rhetoric or a sign of responsible and cultivation leadership? My opinion, probably a little rhetorical and a lot responsible.

Does your congregation have a vision? If it does, do you talk about it frequently? Do your leaders pray about it? If you don't have a stated and shared vision, why not? Do your Elders not see it as an important part of the growth process? If you don't have a clear picture of how you want your Church to look, then what's the point of what you're doing now? What does it mean if you're not working towards an intended consequence?

Having a solid vision statement is the first of a four step growth plan. Following the vision statement is an explicit plan of mission or purpose. Next come umbrella goals then driver goals.

Here's a common example of not having a clearly defined vision. Some congregations have continued the tradition of having annual or bi-annual gospel meetings. Most do it out of tradition and not because it is part of the growth plan. So as a result, each year the congregations pass around the same few preachers and have (in their own judgment) unsuccessful meetings - which is generally determined by responses and attendance. Why? Mostly because there is not a strategically defined vision - or a comprehensive growth plan. So the Elders go with what they know, what they are comfortable with - which ends up being what they have always done.

When you're not sure how you want the congregation to look, how will you know if you're there?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Considering Romans 14

Click on the picture for a readable image.

Romans 14 is such a tough chapter. Not really tough to understand, but tough to do. It seems that the summary verse is 13. It says, "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." What's so hard about that? Have you struggled with fulfilling this scripture? Have you been on the other end of someone else struggling to fulfill this scripture? We do this in the church - too often. Instead of considering ways to encourage and help strengthen our "weaker" brothers we expect them to rise to our level of spiritual maturity. And when they don't, we isolate, alienate and marginalize them.

Try to be objective for a moment and consider whether or not you are guilty of this. Think about this question as a litmus test for yourself - do I doctrinalize issues that are were not meant to be doctrinal? This seems to be the starting block for much of the issues we have. We read issues, contexts and opinions into scripture - when in fact it does not belong. This was the issue that came up in Acts with the Jewish brethren who insisted that their gentile brothers ought to meet their traditions before they could be accepted into the body. That was wrong. So why do we do the same thing? Why do we carry on our traditions, call them scriptural or doctrinal and insist that others follow us down this road?

It's past time for us to come together under the umbrella of scriptural unity. Understanding that we will not always agree, we can not continue to doctrinalize issues that make us uncomfortable and expect to be able to call names because people don't follow "our" doctrine.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tested in Wal-Mart

Preachers have got to have their 'A' games at all times. I mean, we're never off work. Yesterday, I was in Wal-Mart and I ran into a great lady that we worship with. After we said hello, she says "Jeremy, I've already talked with one of the elders, but I need to ask you a question." Okay, anytime a person starts with, "I've talked with one of the elders," there's a 50/50 shot at it being a not-so-fun conversation. This one turned out okay. She had a textual question for me. Whew, sigh of relief. Then she stumped me.

"What was the name of the angel cast out of heaven?" I knew what it wasn't. And I felt like I had a good guess, but I told her she'd have to wait until Sunday for the answer. By the way, it's in Isaiah 14.


Friday, October 23, 2009

It's a eu⋅phe⋅mism! 

OMG! (oh my god)
Freakin', Frickin or Friggin' (depending on your preference)
What the crap!?

These are a few popular euphemisms that I've seen in text messages and hear from folks (especially teens) all the time. Here's the the definition listed at the substitution of a mild, indirect or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh or blunt.

Do you say any of these words? When you read them, don't they seem obnoxious or at least a little tacky or uncouth? Have you ever given thought to what you're saying - or allowing your kids to say? You may as well be swearing. When we use these words, everyone knows what we mean. We choose not to swear because it's wrong - because it's a sin. So why would we say these words? If you don't want your kids saying the "real" words, do you really want them saying these?

Something to think about.


Raising Faithful Kids

As a Christian who's raising kids, what are your biggest concerns? What do you worry about most when it comes to your kids and faith or your kids and God? I recently had an aha moment and came to the realization that my kids are growing up. I've got one in school now. Another will be in school next year, with others heading in that direction. My two oldest have been asking more questions about faith, religion, etc. and that has put this put this topic at the front of the line for me. Which is really where it should have been in the first place.

Here's my two main concerns, thoughts, worries (not really sure how to label it yet). What can I do to keep my kids from rebelling against God when they become teens? We've all seen it happen. Great family, great parents, doing the right things, and yet when their child becomes a teen - the spiritual train wreck happens. What did those parents do? Was it them that at all? Could they have done something differently? Are there any consistent factors that I can point to and learn from?

The second concern I have is to help my kids acquire and develop a faith that they have chosen before they leave for college. I don't want my kids being spiritual giants, youth group leaders, etc. if all the while they don't understand, appreciate and truly own their faith and take personal responsibility for their relationship with God.

Have you gone through this? Do you have some insight you could share? After giving this more thought the past several months, here's a few thoughts thoughts I have.

1. Be intentional. Don't go through the motions and expect that everything will be fine, just because you are going through the "right" motions. What goals do you have for your kids? What values are you going to try to impress on your kids? What are you going to do to fulfill this? Be specific and be intentional.

2. Teach them that their religion, spirituality, faith, etc. is not based, or found in "going to church." Their spiritual health and well-being is based entirely on their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Everything else is either secondary or simply an indicator of the strenghth of that relationship.

3. Make sure they know that just because I'm a preacher or an adult that I am not a "Spiritual Superman." Although I may not share all of them, I've got to make sure they understand I am just like them with regard to sin, temptation, bad decisions, struggles and successes - all rolled into one. I think this earns me more creditability and respect. Those are two checks I can cash when they are teens.

What do you think? Blessings.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Uncomfortable Peter

Notice Peter's situation in Acts chapter 10. Look at the circumstances that would have made him uncomfortable. The close of chapter 9 has Peter staying at the home of a tanner. We think, so what? What does it matter where he stayed? Well, here's something you may not know about a tanner in the first century. A tanner was a leather worker - they made stuff with leather. And back then, they didn't buy the leather then turn it into purses, sandals and jackets. They had it from start to finish. Think bloody, nasty, smelly, etc. The Jews didn't think much of them because of this. That's understandable because the Jews were so interested in cleanliness.

Then after God had Peter staying with a tanner, he sent him to a gentile's home! That never happened. A good Jew might let a gentile stay in his house if he needed to, but never the opposite. This was a social perception issue and a religious issue - the cleanliness thing again. In a matter of two days, Peter went from uncomfortable to really uncomfortable. Why? For what? You know why. Because he was called to a higher purpose. What would have happened if Peter had refused to leave his comfort zone. What if he said no thanks and never went? How many souls did Peter impact because he chose the Lord over himself?

How comfortable are you?

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Work In Progress

I've been preaching a mini-series in Jonah and have really grown through this study. There are some great and deep theological lessons in this text. I'm intrigued by Jonah's response in the belly of the fish and God's response to him. Even when he "looked towards God," he wasn't buying God's theology. Yet, in spite of the tension and conflict that still existed - God chose to use Jonah. Unlike Jonah, I don't have the courage to blatantly disagree with God (though I do disobey Him on a fairly regular basis). And even in my sinful state, He still chooses to use me. I've only recently realized that He does this for my benefit. Like Jonah, I am a work in progress.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Somtimes All We've Got is . . .


I've walked through valleys when it seemed that the mountains were closing in, and every decision was the wrong one. Ever felt like that?

I've tried to logically think through the situation, making a list of pros and cons and even asking for advice. But in the end, all the answers led me to consequences that I was trying to avoid. Ever experienced that?

It's often a slow and sometimes painful experience. That is, getting to where God is standing and patiently waiting for me to meet Him at. But in the end, no matter how long it takes, I always end up on my knees in prayer. Ever tried that?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Purpose of Gospel Temptation accounts?

Hebrews 4:15 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin."

This verse is clear. During his lifetime, Jesus went through every type or form of sin that we go through. Since that's the case, what was the purpose of the three temptations documented in the gospels? It certainly couldn't have been to fulfill this verse. In the gospel accounts of the three temptations, Jesus is essentially tempted with the primary typologies of sin - the pride of life, lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes (1 John 2:16). But not everything that we are tempted with - that happened throughout the course of his life.

So what was the purpose? If he did not endure that experience for us, then perhaps God put that trial in his life for his personal preparation? Luke 4:1 says that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Clearly, God put Jesus in that position. The context gives us the answer to the question. This was the beginning of his public ministry. And it was God's final test of preparation for Jesus.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

God Has No Grandchildren

God had no grandchildren only children. You can't ride the coatails of your parents faith!

My friend Dan Wheeler posted this on Facebook today. I love it! We have all got to find, establish and own our faith. 2nd hand clothes may work fine. But 2nd hand faith will fall apart. Whose faith do you own?

Have a great day!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thank God for Family

Not sure if you can relate to this or not, but having four young children really puts a damper on individual time with your spouse. In fact, damper probably doesn't really describe it. We get a few dates each year. And they all revolve around the times when my sister is visiting from Harding. The first thing she does, after starting her laundry;-), is watch our children so that we can go out on a date. I hope we tell her 'thank you' and "we appreciate you' enough. We often joke that she watches the kids to pay for my water bill. But I know that she loves us, loves our kids, and loves to help us out.

You know, I hope that I think of others like she does. I hope that people consider me a blessing in their life. Have you been a blessing to someone this week?

Monday, October 5, 2009

God said it, I believe it, that settles it.

You've heard that saying before; and I've even seen it on some t-shirts. It sounds nice, and I suppose there's some truth to it. But this slogan is representative of a mindset that has caused a lot of trouble in and for the Church. Specifically, in terms of the overall decline of the Church, it's contributed by negatively impacting the faith of 'churched' kids. This thought process essentially promotes an ignorant faith mentality.

For two consecutive generations we've failed to teach our kids to ask 'why' when it comes to their faith. Instead, we've insisted that they continue with, and not question, traditions and teachings that have been established over time. And as a result, we lament the fact that our kids don't know the Bible (like previous generations) - and they don't. We grumble at the fact that they have a greater interest in fun than their faith - and for the most part they do. Whose fault is that? More importantly, how can that be fixed? And whose responsibility is it to work towards fixing it?

The past two generations place a higher importance on transparency and authenticity than previous generations did. Said another way, where older generations were more obedient, recent generations are more inquisitive. To ignore this reality displays a great deal of ignorance and foolishness, and as we are experiencing the consequences are severe. We've insisted that our kids accept our faith and religious practices without question. At best that's illogical; and at worst, its unscriptural.

If Christ's body is going to continue to flourish, grow and prosper, we must teach our kids that it's not only okay to ask why, but it's their responsibility. And we have to be consistent in the demonstration of our faith. That means that we don't do things just because that's they way we've always done them. We do things because that's pattern and command we have from the NT. And when our sacred cows are challenged we have to be able to defend them with concrete scripture (not quotes from men) and be willing to give them up for our kids sake if we can't defend with them with scripture.

When our faith and religion is truly transparent and authentic to our kids (and our practice matches our words) we'll start to see a change - and the Church will start to grow again. Until then . . .

Friday, October 2, 2009

Theology 101

If you knew that you were going to have just one chance at telling someone about Jesus, what scripture would you use? Ever think about Romans 3:23-25? Many years ago Jimmy Allen (Professor at Harding) brought this scripture to life for me. Check it out.

23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.

We could probably spread it out and include vs. 21-26. But for me, these three verses are Theology 101 and speak right to my heart. Paul lays it all out (step-by-step for slow folks like me) in a plain and succinct manner. Here's the root of the theological problem: I am a sinner and because of my sin I'm not able to reach God on my own. BUT, because of His grace and mercy, he sent Jesus so that I could have a relationship with Him. When Jesus died on the cross, He became the place where I could meet God and have a direct line of connection - that's available all the time. That's powerful. That's life-changing, never-be-the-same-again stuff. Next time you have a chance to talk with someone about your faith, try sharing this scripture.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is the Record Player Broken?

I've recently given some thought to how preachers go about selecting the topics and passages that they will preach on - mostly because this is a challenge and struggle for me. Because I'm only preaching a few times a month, I want to make sure that I make every one of them count. That's sounds a little strange, if I preach the Bible wouldn't it automatically count? Yes, but . . . somtimes there is a specific need in the congregation. Sometimes that need exists at a macro level; and other times there is a specific issue or challenge that needs to be dealt with. A good preacher will understand, appreciate and respond to those needs in a manner that brings glory to God and feeds the flock.

So back to the question: how do some preachers go about selecting the text or topic that they will preach on? Sometimes I wonder if there isn't selfish motivations. For example, preaching on a topic or sacred cow that the preacher knows will win favor with the congregation. How about consistently or constantly preaching on their own personal soapbox issues (that's what blogs are for ;-). Neither really bring glory to God or serve the church effectively. Yet, how often do we hear the same sermons over and over again and not raise an eyebrow because its "scriptural"? Perhaps our standards are bit low?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Jesus or Snoop Dog?

Okay, I'm pushing it with the title. I wanted to get your attention. But check this out. Earlier today while I was lost in the great metropolis of Jasper, Alabama, I ended up in a residential area. As I was turning around I noticed a couple of white statues sitting in a yard. That's not uncommon - people often display icons like depictions of angels, Jesus, etc. But these two were different. Both of the faces had been painted black (actually dark brown).

When I looked back a second time, I didn't realize it was supposed to be Jesus (even though it was clothed in a white robe which I guess is what Jesus always wore?) because it looked just like the entertainer Snoop Dog. I'm not kidding - it looked just like him. Long curly hair with a touch of jerry curyl, skinny face and a goatee. It was hilarious. Once I realized that it was supposed to be Jesus I couldn't stop laughing. It looked so funny.

Now, I don't know what Jesus actually looked like. I could make an educated guess that, based on his heritage and where he lived, he probably had dark, olive skin color and "darker" hair. But you know what, it really doesn't matter to me. He could have been a black man. It doesn't affect my faith in Him or my salvation through Him at all. But because I'm a preacher (and could find an illustration in a pitch black empty room) I immediately starting thinking about why people try to make Jesus out to be a person that they can be comfortable with - even if it doesn't match up to what the Bible says He is? Does that make sense?

The person who owned those statues is obviously a black man or woman and is more comfortable thinking of Jesus as a black man. I think about the pictures of Jesus I have seen, like the one on the cover of our big family bible that has been handed down through a couple of generations. It's a nice looking pale white guy with a neatly trimmed beard. The artist who painted it had a definitive picture of what he thought Jesus should look like.

We do this all the time. We try to alter who He is, what He did and what He said so that it can fit into the life that we want to live. I wonder how that makes him feel now? When we read some of the things he said and did we're left feeling loved and comforted. And at other times we read things that leave us feeling guilty, ashamed or convicted. I hope all of those feelings will lead us to make good decisions to change our lives - and not to change Him, His life or His teachings.

By the way, the angel looked just like Scooby Doo - i'm not kidding. And once I'm done preparing my sermon tomorrow my only goal for the day is to find that house again and get a picture!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

. . . For Works of Service

Each time I read Ephesians 4:11-12, I am reminded that there are really two types of leadership in the church. Those who lead by trying to do it all themselves. And those who lead by trying to enable and empower the people who are being led. That's what this scripture is about. And when I look around at congregations that are growing, I notice that they are committed to this practice of leadership.

The bible says here that Jesus has commissioned us to be pastors, teachers and evangelists to prepare God's people for works of service. By default, this scripture gives two commands. First, all of God's people are to be working by serving. And second, for those of us that bear the responsibility as a pastor or teacher or evangelist - we are supposed to be preparing God's people to be the best servants they can be. Simply speaking, are you fulfilling your responsibility? If not, then why? Are you being given opportunities to serve? Have you been challenged to discover your spiritual gifts and to put them to use? Leaders, are you wearing the burden of doing everything yourself?

Here's the problem that occurs in congregations where people are not challenged to step up, discover their strengths and glorify God by serving with them: people become stale and cold; and their faith grows old. So instead of looking for opportunities to serve others, they "come to church" sit in their seat and wait on someone to serve them. Then both the shepherds and ministers can't figure out why the church isn't growing and why everyone seems to be going through the motions.

It's time for all of us to look in the mirror.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Leadership Redefined

John 13:1-20

If I were to ask you what this scripture is about, you would probably answer humility. If that’s your first response then you’re right. It’s definitely teaching about humility. But, read in the context of the circumstances, it’s about something even greater. Look at v.7, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter." The disciples were still thinking about Jesus, His plan, His mission and His purpose from the wrong perspective. They thought of him as the anointed one; the Messiah who had come to earth to reestablish the old earthly kingdom that had been taken away, and to sit on David’s earthly throne. They were wrong. And that’s why Jesus told them that they wouldn’t understand what he was doing until later – as in after his resurrection.

Jesus wasn’t just teaching them about being humble and living with humility. It goes much deeper. Jesus was teaching them a lesson that they would need to carry in their hearts as they set out to grow and lead the Church. You see, they completely misunderstood leadership. They thought it was about being more holy, more worthy, more powerful – as they defined those terms. But Jesus completely re-wrote the book. By taking off his robe, taking a towel and kneeling down before his servants and washing the dirt off their feet, he redefined leadership. Jesus taught them that a person’s holiness is acquired through what the Father has done for them – not what they had done on their own; that a person’s worthiness is not defined by who you are, but instead by whose you are; and that a person’s power is found not in their own strength, but in the strength of the one they put their faith in.

Consider the lyrics to this song – Make Me a Servant. Consider saying them as a prayer to God. What a powerful prayer that would be!

Make me a servant
Lord, make me like You
For You are a servant
Make me one, too
Make me a servant
Do what You must do
To make me a servant
Lord make me like You

To love my brother
To serve like You do
I humble my spirit
I bow before You
And through my service
I'll be just like You
So make me a servant
Lord make me like You

Open my hands, Lord
And teach me to share
Open my heart,
Teach me to care
Service to others
Is service to You
So make me a servant
Make me like You

Leadership and Growth

No doubt about it, there is a direct correlation between leadership and a congregation's growth. Think of some of the congregations that you are familiar with. What about the one where you attend. Is the church growing? If it is - why is it growing? Can you pinpoint and narrow down to a few factors, exactly what is causing the growth? I think you probably can. In fact, if you keep narrowing it down and peeling back the layers you'll probably end up at leadership. Specifically, the leadership from the Shepherds. Sure, you may have a great preacher who draws people in. Or you could be in a great location that is real convenient for many people and is geographically in the middle of an area that is experiencing population growth. But those are just surface issues. We both know that growth and decline can, and have, occurred regardless of those factors.

However, you will not find scriptural, healthy and sustained growth from a congregation that does not have scriptural and healthy Shepherds guiding and leading towards that growth. It just won't happen. So, if most churches are not growing - does that mean that most churches have unhealthy and unscriptural Shepherds? Perhaps. It has definitely been that case that men are serving in that capacity when God has not truly qualified or called them. Or (probably just as common) when they have grown out of their qualification.

However naive, I'd like to think that's not the answer for the majority of congregations. Instead, a more likely answer is that there are capable, qualified, Godly men who have been charged with a responsibility, role and task that they don't truly understand and are prepared to carry out. Here's what I mean: over time, the Elderships of many congregations have degeneratively shrunken into positions of glorified deacons. Where they feel a need to step in and be hands-on with too many different ministries and activities of the church. When this happens, they lose sight of the responsibilities that God has for them. So, instead of spending a couple of evenings each week checking on families and visiting peoples homes, they are spending those evenings doing work that a deacon should be addressing.

Or, even worse, groups of Shepherds have evolved into a team of managers running a non-profit business. This is not what God intended; and it's often a symptom of control problems. This often turns into a situation where no money is spent and no decisions are made unless the Elders are first consulted and have given their blessing. If the Shepherd are spending their time in this capacity, then there is little time left to spend on shepherding the flock.

Both of these mistakes are too common and are great vehicles that satan uses to set up shop in the middle of congregations. Shepherds (both individually and collectively) need to do a self-evaluation; and assess whether their time is being spent well. And whether or not they are effectively fullfilling the role that God has called them to. When Shepherds are shepherding - churches are usually growing.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Godly Example

I've had a night and a little bit of a morning to reflect on yesterday's events. No doubt about it, yesterday was a BIG day for the Curry church of Christ. Yesterday, one of our Shepherds (who has been guiding us for longer than I know) announced that he was stepping down from that position. At first, I was a little surprised and a little worried for the congregation. But it didn't take too long for my thoughts to switch over where they need to be - on my former shepherd and his wife.

I love that godly couple more than they'll ever know. And they have had more of an impact on my life than what they could ever imagine. He has been example for me of what a Christian husband, father, businessman, and church leader should look like - he has shown me by letting me watch is life. So once I got done worrying about myself and the congregation, I starting thinking about these two wonderful people. And then I started praying for them. I am so blessed to have that kind of an example of humility, strength and courage all wrapped up in one man.

By stepping down he put his family and the church first. He understood that, for whatever the specific reasons, that he was not at point in life that he felt he should be leading the church in that capacity. I have known of too many others in his position that made the wrong decision and remained with the Eldership for the wrong reasons, or with only half their heart invested in it. He had the courage and humility not to do that.

Let's not forget that a title is something you take on. But leadership is a role that it given to you by the very people who are following your lead. He may not be wearing a specific title - but I'll still be following close behind him.

I love you guys.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Exposure Youth Camp

Check out the promo video for Exposure! It's already September. December will be here soon!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Are we acting like the Jews?

So what's causing our congregations to stop growing and as a result, start dying (or at least letting atrophy take hold)? I wonder if a little bit of it is because we're acting like the Jewish Christians described in Acts. Check out these scriptures for yourself.

Acts 10:1-22; 34-35 It took a vision from God and three men sent to get him before Peter would consider preaching to a gentile.

Acts 11:1-3 When word got back to Jerusalem (where all the Jewish Church leaders were) that Peter had preached to (and ate with) Cornelius they demanded an explanation. So Peter had to explain to them about his vision and how it was God who sent him to do it.

Acts 11:19-22 This scripture describes how the Jewish Christians who had fled Jerusalem after Stephen was stoned had only shared the gospel with other Jews. But there was an exception. A few men were preaching to the Gentiles also. And when the folks in Jerusalem found out, they sent Barnabas up to Antioch to investigate the situation.

Now, I don't think we blatantly do what they did. These Jewish Christians were purposefully prejudiced against the Gentiles. And as a result, they were willing to "allow" or "accept" that the Gentiles were being converted - but it had to be done on their terms. More specifically, they had to become Jews (conversion) first, then they would be deemed acceptable for conversion. I don't know if we can paint with a real broad brush on this, but I don't think we'd be completely wrong in saying that some congregations are a little guilty of this.

For example, we are certainly guilty of confusing habit, tradition and custom for scripture - there's no denying that. And when our habits, traditions and customs are disrupted, we get disrupted. That's not inherently wrong. That is, there's nothing wrong with customs and traditions. But it is wrong for customs or traditions to be placed at a greater importance than people and their souls. Or, like the Jewish Christians did with circumcision, require people to accept our opinions, before we accept them. That's not right, and it alienates people. And when people are alienated they leave or don't come back. That's one reason for a lack of growth.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Church Growth in Walker County

Okay, so here's recommitment number 1. No more lay offs for more than a few days. Hopefully I won't need another recommitment. I've already got enough of those going. I think I'm on number 4 with my promise to myself that I'll start working out again and get back in shape. :-) Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one in that boat.

Last month I introduced a new topic that I want to get into a little - the state of the Church. Are we growing? Are we not growing? Why are some congregations able to grow and others are dying? Here we go . . .

Since I've been in Jasper, I've heard three different comments (from three different people) that essentially stated that the church in Walker County is dying and they don't know why. I haven't done any research on this (though it probably would be a good study). But judging soley from comments made people who have been around a while and checking old bulletins from a few congregations, I can tell that it is probably true that the church "numbers" are in decline. In fact, for a few of the congregations the numbers are down substantially.

This is a good moment for pause. How do you define a dying church? How do you look at a particular congregations and say, "that congregation is dying," or "that congregation is growing?" Here's my answer, if there isn't consistent numberical growth, then it's dying. That's sounds a little harsh, but once a congregation stops growing it's only a matter of time before it begins declining. And it should really be pointed out that when our own kids make the decision to become a Christian, that really isn't growth in this sense. To me that seems more like maintaining.

So back to the thought. If the church in Walker County is dying, then why? Starting with the next post, I am going to spend a little time trying to answer this question. I welcome your comments. I think a discussion on this topic is well past due and well worth the time. If you are a regular reader, please encourage your friends to check us out. I would love to have input from as many people as possible. I look forward to your comments.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Church

Most of the posts on this blog are generally devotionally focused. I think that means that I write with the hope of you being drawn closer to God or being challenged to think more critically about your relationship with God. Here's a litle different post.

Where do you think the Church is heading? What direction? Is it a positive direction? A negative direction? Do you see the Church growing? Do you see the Church in decline? For the individual congregations that are experiencing growth - what's causing it? What does that say about the spiritual and religious landscape of our society?

These are a few of the many questions that have been on my mind for some time. I have taken a lot of time to really discover my beliefs and thoughts on these questions. And I'm going to try and answer them over the course of the next few weeks.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Who Am I? Who Are You?

I love this scripture! It's such a great encouragement to me. Check it out.
10"Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt." 11But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?" 12And He said, "Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain." 13Then Moses said to God, "Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you.' Now they may say to me, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?" 14God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
It's easy to see why this verse is so encouraging to someone who has a heart to serve the Lord, but who sometimes gets lost in self-doubt. That's a perfect description for me. Deep down in my heart I feel like God has a plan for me. But sometimes I am so scared to jump out there and go for it. But every time I read this scripture it's a great reminder for me that the "I AM" has got my back.

On a personal level, there's really not much difference between Moses and me, or you. He was a regular guy with great leadership skills, a ton of potential and almost as much self-doubt. The way that I strive to be like him is that he fought through his apprenhension, his fear, his doubt and he just got after it. That doesn't mean he didn't go back to the great "I AM" every now and then for a pep talk. But he stayed in the game and he allowed God to use him. I hope people can say that about me. What about you?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Anger Poured Out

I had the chance to speak at the 6th Avenue congregation this week. This was the home congregation for Gus Nichols. It was really kind of neat to speak from the same pulpit that such a great and impactful preacher called his own for so many years. In case you aren't familiar with Gus Nichols, he was really instrumental in the growth of the church in the early and mid twentieth century. He started countless numbers of congregations in the western half of Alabama. He's really left a great legacy, particularly in this area.

I was asked to speak on James 1:19-20 - about being slow to wrath. I had never preached on this text before; and preparing this lesson on anger was a little more challenging that what I anticipated. But it was really benefical for me. Hopefully, the family there got something out of it as well. I want to share just a little of what I studied. Hopefully, you can take something from it.

Anger is one of those sins that really hits close to home with most everyone. I've known a few people in my life who I don't think ever struggled with anger - but for most of us, this is a common vice. There's a verse in Ephesians that people go to, to try and assuage their conscience when it comes to their anger. You may be familiar with it too. It's Ephesians 4:26 and it says
Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.
This quote, along with a few references to Jesus' anger with the Pharisees (Mark 3:5; are missused and misapplied so much. Grab your Bible and check out Mark 3:5 and look specifically at what got Jesus angry. And then check out the Romans 1:18 and 2:8 where it talks about God's wrath.

Now just think to yourself, are the things that get you going the same type of things that got Jesus and the Lord worked up? Are they in the same category with what God's wrath is going up against? Probably not. Jesus was angry with the Pharisees because they had a hard heart. And God's wrath has been and will be poured out on all sin. Those hardly match up with idiot drivers, kids that don't listen, an incompetent boss or an umpire that you're convinced is cheating your kid.

It's really kind of humbling when you think of it in that context. So does that mean that you're sinning if you get angry for any reason other than a reaction to sin? I honestly don't know the answer to that. But I do know that James 1:19-20 says to be slow to wrath (or anger) because anger does not bring about the righteousness of God. After studying verses 18-21, here's what I came to realize about anger: it does not bring me closer to God, it does not solve the issue that instigated it, it does rob me of the fullness and the joy that I am supposed to experience (v.4)and finally, it does not take away the pain that caused it in the first place. Only Jesus can do those things.

God bless you!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What does your letter say?

One of my favorite scriptures is the first three verses of 2 Corinthians. Check it out.
1 Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! 2 The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our[a] hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. 3 Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.
This scripture is so neat in that it reveals two messages to us. Do you realize that (if you have accepted Christ as your Savior) you are living out someone else's letter? Everything you do and don't do, and everything you say and don't say reflects back on someone. Paul said that the Christians in Corinth were his letter and that their lives were the only recommendation that he needed. What type of recommendation letter are you writing? By your actions today, what did you write? What about this past week - what have you written?

There's certainly here to think about. I think probably the most important letter we write is the one we write to Jesus. With our life we are in the process of writing a letter to Jesus. And with our choices and decisions we pen our letter. What are you telling Him?

God Bless!

Friday, June 5, 2009


Let me ask you a question - an onion question. Huh? What's an onion guestion? Glad you asked. An onion question is a question where the answer never seems to stop. The more you pull back layers, the deeper you get into the answer, the better and more fulfilling it becomes. This reminds me of the movie "Shrek," where Shrek and Donkey are on their way to rescue the princess and the onion topic comes up - "Ogres are like onions!"

So here's the question: when it comes to faith, religion, spirituality, the Bible, why do you believe what you believe? Where do you get your frame of reference? Where do you get your conclusions? Where do you get your answers to questions? I LOVE to ask "why?" when I am having a spiritually-based conversation with a student or am teaching in a class. I could ask why four or five times in a row. And it's so much fun for me to see students pull back the layers and slowly discover their own faith.

Too often we let ourselves (and our kids) own a faith that isn't theirs. We use rhetoric that we're comfortable with to teach others our beliefs and we seem to miss the step where we help them to own the beliefs for their self. I think this, more than anything else, is the reason that we lose "churched" kids when the get older - and especially when they go off to college, move out, etc.

So next time you're sitting in a bible class and the teacher says something you've heard a hundred times (or more) ask why. Then keep asking and answering "why" another three or four times and you'll start to get to center of the onion.

God Loves You!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Does God have confidence in your family?

Genesis 18:19 reads, "For I have know him, so that he will command his children and household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment, that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He has spoken about him."

This is a really neat verse. It is a powerful statement about the Abraham's faith in general; and God's faith in Abraham specifically. In this passage God had no problem putting all his eggs in one basket so to speak. He made a statement of fact when He said that He knows that Abraham will command his children and household after him and that they will keep the way of the Lord.

This got me thinking, does God have that same type of faith in me? I think he probably hopes great things for me as a father and husband. But I'm not sure if He were referring to me that he could make the same statement (that He did about Abraham). That's actually a little embarrassing. Usually, I do a good job. And I am pretty consistent. But it's those times when I get frustrated too easily. Or those times when I am too tired to sit down and read the Bible to my kids. Or, here's one you might relate to, when I get frustrated when I'm driving. My kids are always watching - and learning - from everything I do and everything I don't do.

What about you? What would God say about your family? Do you think He KNOWS that your family will follow Him and all His ways? This verse sure is a great reminder of our responsibilities. Do yourself two favors: even if you answered yes to the previous verse, think of three things you could start doing better. It could be your families' church attendance. It could be praying before you eat. It could be having better control over some personal sin issues in your life. It could be reevaluating some parenting practices that you have been thinking about. It could be modeling personal spiritual disciplines for your children - like reading your Bible and personal prayer time.

Here's the second favor I hope that you would do for yourself: share this list with your spouse AND your children. Talk about it with them. Believe me when I say that I know how difficult this idea is. But you would be surprised at just how rewarding it could be.

May God bless you and your family. Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Temptation - The Devil's Playground, pt.4

Well, it's only been about three weeks since the last post. It's about time I get back on here. You ever feel busy? Busy like three weeks go by and you don't realize it? Anyway - here we go with the fourth and final post on this little series on how the devil works to attack us and what we can do to combat his efforts. No recap needed - so let's get right to it.

This is the good news edition. We've heard what the devil does - now here's what we can do. First, (prepare yourself because you're about to get blessed with a deep theological truth) know your specific challenges. Yep, that's the first step. Know what you struggle with. We all have natural tendencies that are both good and bad. There are sins that others struggle with each day that I can turn my nose up at. Both there are also things that I know I have to stay from away from that wouldn't bother others in the least. So I suppose this point really has as much to do with having the courage to admit and face your struggles as it does with knowing what they are. This reminds me of a passage in 1 John 1, where it says that if we say we have no sin then we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins He is faithful and will forgive us and cleanse us from our unrighteousness. This scripture really teaches us that we have to know what sin we have in our life. And in order to confess it, we have to have owned up to and confronted it.

The second thing we've got to do is to remember that whenever temptation comes it is from Satan. It's not accident and it's not from God. This is really a common sense idea. You can't beat an opponent if you don't know who it is you're up against. Just like any ball game. You know who you're scheduled to play - and in a lot of cases you'll even have a scouting report on them. Fighting against the devil is no different. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we're not fighting against flesh and blood but against the ruler of the dark world and against spiritual wickedness in high places. Remember that it's him you're up against and that you have a game plan to beat him - the Bible.

If these first two don't completely do the trick - then check this out. Every sin we get into has consequences, spiritual and physical consequences. The biggest consequence is obvious. Sin leads to spiritual death and spiritual death is separation from God. That's what Jesus' purpose was in coming to earth - to remove that separation and bring you and I back into relationship with our Heavenly Father. But aside from that big one, there are many other tangible consequences that we have to live with every day. I often hear people question God for the terrible things that happen in our world. Often those questions even turn into blame. I don't kid myself into thinking I have any answers to these question. I don't. If I did I would have written a book and gotten well off of it. But here's one thing I do know. Most of the problems that you and I deal with, and most of the problems the world deals with, are a direct result of someone's sin. There's always a consequence - we shouldn't ever forget it.

Ok, here's the fourth. Know specific scriptures that directly to challenges that you face. Being able to respond with the Word of God is the best weapon we have to use when Satan shows his face. But in order to use it, we have to know it. Reading our Bible every day is better than any medicine or vitamin in the world. It'll help keep you healthy and strong!

Here's the last one - remember that the war has already been won. Jesus won the war when He gave Himself up on the cross and then beat death. We are really just fighting those last few skirmishes and battles - and you can win. Remember what James 4:7 says - submit yourself to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.

The battle is yours to win. God Bless!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Temptation - The Devil's Playground, pt.3

This discussion on Satan and temptation goes a little further. So here's part 3 of 4. But before we start, let's do a little recap. In the first post, we talked about how Satan is planning, purposeful and specific when he tempts you. There are no accidents or coincidences. Satan knows what he's doing; and he does it really well.

In the 2nd post we talked about how Satan gets us to take the leap and land (sometimes head first) in sin. Really, there's two different ways that he operates here. First - he's the world's best liar. Period. No questions about that one. So yes, he's a liar, what does that matter? Well, it's the way that he lies. He sets up his lies to make bad things look really good. So that way, we end up tricking (or convincing) our self that what we are tempted to do, say, or get into, really isn't that bad. Or, even worse - that it's good.

In this third post, I want for us to talk about how he does this. From what I can tell there's a 5 step process. And it leads us from where we start with the initial temptation and end up spiritually bankrupt and completely separating ourselves from God. But, before we really get started, make sure you have your Bible and a highlighter and pen handy to make notes of important scriptures.

Okay, let's start with step one by looking at Ephesians 4:17-19.
"So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness."

Check out that phrase, "darkened in their understanding." If you have a KJV, it says "having the understanding darkened." This means that the lights were turned out on their ability to understand their sin - or even that they were sinning. The Bible says that their hearts couldn't see the sin and that because of their ignorance they were separated from the life of God. Do you know what ignorance means? It's not a bad word. It's not the same as being dumb. Dumb means that you have tried but you're not able to understand. Ignorant means that you just don't know - no one has told you. That's not a bad thing - but it's definitely VERY dangerous.

So, put yourself in this spot. Satan drops a temptation in your lap and starts you off by playing on your ignorance and gets you to think, "I'm not sure what's right and what's wrong." Now, you might be thinking to yourself, "that doesn't make sense. I know what sin is and what it isn't. I know what's right and what's wrong" Well, you half right. You don't go into a temptation or sinful situation on purpose, do you? I hope you said no. Instead, Satan puts you in a tempting situation. It's in the middle of the situation that Satan plays on your ignorance - and you get caught up in it - and you sin.

Since we know that Satan tempts us with sin that we are already weak in, let me ask you this question. First, think of something you struggle with. Have you given into that temptation just once? Or is that an every day (or nearly every day) battle that you lose more often than you would like to admit? You see my point.

This leads to step two - hardening of your heart. Repeating a particular sin leads us into apathy. And what that really means is, not caring what's right or what's wrong. For someone to not care if they are sinning, their heart has been hardened to the point where it doesn't hurt anymore. The sin has invaded their life to the point that they don't care whether or not they sin. And they don't care if they break God's heart. Have you ever been there? I have, and it hurts. And if you left the hurt, and the shame and embarrassment, keep you from reaching out and taking God's hand you will fall deeper into sin.

If that happens, then you get to the spiritually depraved place where you lose your sensitivity. And a loss of sensitivity leads you to the place where you can say, "I know it's wrong. I don't care that it's wrong and I like it. And I'm going to keep doing it." Wow. Not a good wow - bad wow. Have you been here? Are you here now? I have. And it's a scary and lonely place, because God is nowhere near. When we willingly choose to sin we literally push God away and pull Satan in.

The sin leaves you broken and hurt. It leaves you guilty and ashamed. It leaves you depressed and lonely. It leaves you feeling like you can't go back to when it was just you and God. And so, too often, we quit trying. We give in and we get to the point that we can't stop doing what's wrong. It's not that we can't stop. We just think we can't because we're not able to see any other options. So, like I said, we just keep on walking down that road. Does any of this sound familiar?

When it gets to the point where we can't stop doing what's wrong, we're indulging in sensuality. This leads straight into the final step. Which is really no step at all - it's spiritual destruction. It's at this point when we have completely separated our self from God. We have pushed him away and are completely alone. We've got nothing left in our spiritual tank. Satan has lied to us, tricked us, gotten us to buy in and then left us stained with sin and feeling used and alone.

This sounds pretty awful. Because it is awful. Being away from God is the worst feeling in the world, and it's literally the worst place to be. I hope you've never been here before. I hope you're not here now.

If you are, check out this passage. Ephesians 2:3-8:
"Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;"

For sinners like us, this has got to be one of the sweetest scriptures in the Word. Even if we are spiritually dead in sin, God will bring us back to life in Jesus Christ our Savior. That's how much he love us, how much he loves you. If you'll let Him, he'll heal your broken heart and take away the pain. He'll take away the guilt and He'll give you a sense of fullness - a sense of Christ's love.

Check back for the last post in this series. It's all good news - you'll love it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Temptation - The Devil's Playground, pt.2

In the last post we talked a little about the idea, (actually fact is a better word), the fact, that Satan is responsible for each of your temptations. It's Satan that tempts you to give in to your personal desires and he does it with a specific plan that he has laid out just for you. You see, he understands you. He knows your heart, your weaknesses, your strengths, and even the secret desires and motivations that you thought were hidden and locked away. And he is always looking for the right chance to put the right temptation in front of you.

So how does he do it? How does he manage to get us to make decisions that we never would have dreamed of doing? Or what about those small little silly, even stupid decisions that aren't life altering, but leave you feeling disappointed with yourself, and just a little further away from Jesus? How does he get me not to turn the channel when some junk comes on the TV? How does he get me to lose my temper (in front of my kids) and yell at some guy who wasn't paying attention and cut me off? I know better. But still I do it. Well, here's the best answer that I have.

First, he's a liar. Sounds harsh, but if it walks like a duck . . . Satan really is the world's foremost expert on lying. No one does it better. In fact, here's what the Bible has to say about it.
"He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and father of lies." -John 8:44
So, not only is he a liar - he's really good at it. So what's the point? Well think about it this way. When was the last time you blatantly chose to sin, knowing exactly what you were doing, why you were doing it, that it was a sin, you felt good about it, and you did it anyway. It just doesn't happen that way. Satan fills our head and our heart with misinformation, doubt, half-truths and in some cases outright lies. Well, that's his first tool.

The second is the way he makes bad things, look really good. Just take the example of sexual temptation. Within a marriage, sex is a good thing. It's God's wedding gift to a married couple. But outside of marriage, it's an awful sin that has awful consequences. And Satan uses everything from the physical act itself all the way to a small, tiny second look as you walk past someone, to lure us into sinful spiral leading to spiritual death. We know its a sin when we have impure thoughts. And we know we're letting God down when we give into those thoughts. Yet, we still give in. So how does Satan do it? How does he get us to do something we know is wrong and will hurt us? He makes it look really good!!! He exploits our God-given needs and desires and uses them against us. It's really that simple. Most of the time, sin looks good, sounds good, feels good - well, you get the point.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Temptation - The Devil's Playground, pt.1

We see throughout the Bible that people are tempted to sin. Some give in and some don't. I would guess that every day you are tempted to sin. I know I am. Sometimes I give in. Sometimes I don't.

We know all this. We understand this. It's nothing new. But do you realize that every temptation you face is NOT an accident - at least I don't think it is. Take David for example. Why do you think he was walking around on his roof that evening (2 Samuel 11)? Do you think he went up there hoping see a woman bathing? Probably not. He was the King - if that's what he wanted there were much quicker and easier ways to get it. He probably went out there for the same reason any of us would - enjoy the fresh air, the beautiful sky, get away from things and people for a while, maybe just to relax.

This is the point where the conversation about Satan comes in. I believe Satan set up that entire incident exactly how he wanted it. And I think that David was probably predisposed to a sexual weakness in the first place. The devil knew this and simply laid out the temptation (or trap) and David walked right into it.

Consider this next time you find yourself wandering towards a temptation. 1 John 5:19 says that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that Satan is always on the look-out for a chance to attack us. Satan is out there. And he knows your personal weaknesses. So the next time you find your eyes or mind wandering, or you're thinking of doing "it," take a time out, look around and see what's really going on. At that very moment Satan is at work on you. Just tell him no and he'll leave you alone - James 4:7.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Does the Bible teach socialism?

I have always heard that the Bible teaches socialism - at least a form of it. And without giving it much thought I pretty much just assumed that was correct. After all, there are examples throughout the book of Acts that show how the early church had a "welfare" system in place. That is, that everyone gave (some substantially) of their own means so that all could have. However, I never really took the time to look into this. That is, until a recent economics course. Here's a condensed version of a paper I wrote on the subject.

According to, capitalism is “an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations.” Based on this definition, the thrust of capitalism is that all things economic (being the production and consumption of resources) are to be held privately and not be governed by a single source, i.e. government. Further then, the idea of being private is to assume and infer freedom of choice with limited interference or direction; and that direction being only that minimal amount that is necessary to maintain social order. Leaving these principles leads to an abandonment of capitalism.

The question then is, where does Bible stand on this? And even more specifically, does God call his followers to practice capitalism? The answer is yes. The scriptures referring, in even the slightest manner, to economics are undoubtedly biased towards capitalism; and not just capitalism, but capitalism that is in its purest form. Said another way, we should not necessarily look to the context of the current economic environment for an accurate example of the ‘what’ and ‘how’.

This having been, there are certainly scriptures that on the surface do not appear to be favoring capitalism. And Christ himself teaches lessons throughout the New Testament where it could be reasonably deduced that capitalism is unhealthy and leads to a sinful life. Here are examples of both.

Acts 2:45 – “and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone who might have need.”

This text provides an example of the early Church practicing a model of socialism. Perhaps more specifically, they were practicing a form of what we refer to as welfare or the redistribution of wealth. They collected and combined their resources and then redistributed them throughout those who had need within their group.

Another such example is found in Acts 4:32-37 – “32And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. 36Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.

This text goes a step further and indicates a centralized organization and distribution through the apostles. And because of this factor, this illustration more closely represents a socialist system than the previous text - which is obviously in contrast to capitalism. To take this thought a step further, the text continues by telling the story of a married couple who sold their land but held back some of the profits for themselves. They were struck dead for their transgressions.

These two arguments that have been presented are common in this religious debate – does the Bible teach socialism? With that having been said, while they do portray this picture a certain way, there is much more to be considered than just the practical perception – which is that this collection and redistribution of resources inherently speaks against capitalism. This is an errant argument because it ignores the political and social context of the situation and the theological framework of the text. In both these examples there is a clear inference of the participants willing participation – which as referred to previously is paramount to the definition of capitalism. There is no indication of organizational, social or political pressure being applied. To the contrary, the primary theological lesson of these texts is that these new Christians are motivated and called to give liberally by Christ’ love that now lives in them and is poured out through the Holy Spirit. Consideration of these facts leads to the conclusion that these two scriptures are examples of capitalism being practiced in its purest form. More specifically, individuals of greater means saw a need and opportunity to help and then freely choice to give of their personal resources. These examples dispel the argument that some form of socialism is necessary to care for and provide basic necessities for those who are unable to do so for themselves.

There is often a perception that the primary premise or purpose for capitalism is for the individual to be able to gather and accumulate as much wealth as possible – otherwise, why not just endeavor to make the collective group as wealthy as possible. In accepting this idea, the text found in Matthew 6:19-21 becomes particularly relevant. It states, 19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

The Christian who opposes capitalism or perhaps is just of the opinion that the Bible teaches socialism, will reference this scripture to argue that capitalism leads to a sinful love and accumulation of money. And then deduce and further argue that since Jesus stated that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," that capitalism is wrong or leads to sin. This argument ignores the context of the text and audience to whom Jesus was speaking. He was talking about our priorities. He understood, even then, the strong attraction (or temptation) of materialism. He was simply providing a stern warning to avoid the temptations of materialism

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Admitting failure is tough. It's painful and it creates embarrassment. Those two things alone make it worth avoiding. But when you find a way to say, "you know, I stunk, I dropped the ball, I didn't do a good job . . . I failed," those feelings of inadequacy, pain and embarrassment are washed away by the Grace of God. In my first run in ministry I did fail. It took me a few years, but I finally figured out why. Because I quit! That's it, that's the reason. Before the moment that I emotionally and mentally packed it in, I was just like any other minister who faced struggles. But I became different when I allowed Satan to use my struggles against me. I have committed to myself to be aware, and guard against these potential pitfalls.

There is a great book available for anyone working in ministry. Leadership From the Inside Out by Kevin Harney. It's a great read and provides insight into avoiding the pitfalls that all ministers face.

God Bless!

Back Home

Five years ago, I left the ministry. I was hurt. I was spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. I loved what I did, but I just didn't want to do it any longer.

About six months ago, I began to realize that the bad experiences I had were my fault. I was responsible for my own emotional and spiritual state. Not anyone else. And I finally found the courage to face up to my weaknesses (or you might say, the things Satan used to attack me), pray about them and give them over to my Father. It's really neat - the indescribable peace that overcomes you when you freely admit to yourself that you're not Superman (or really even a Super Christian), that God doesn't expect you to be, and then you allow HIM to work on you and in you. When I did this last fall, I slowly began to realize that God still had plans for me, and that those plans might come sooner than I had realized.

So as I sit here now, in the late-night quiet of my new office, I begin a new journey. God has brought me home to serve His family - to serve my family. I am back at work where I belong.